Many strings to Alan’s bow

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If you live in North Otago, chances are you’ve seen Alan Rakiraki perform as a musician, singer or actor.

The popular entertainer is Oamaru’s Billy T. James, with his seemingly easy switches between the three arts. However, he started as a stage-struck child.

His parents were musical, especially his father, who played the banjo, guitar, violin, and bagpipes. Young Alan had been given a ukulele and was to appear in a show at Waipori School.

“I do recall I didn’t want to do it. I was a bit shy.

“For the greatest number of years, when I was a kid, I didn’t do any of that.”

Mr Rakiraki’s family used to entertain others in their home, playing guitars and the accordion. He was happy to join in on those occasions.

At high school, an older pupil taught him to play the guitar “properly”. However, he did not read music and played by ear.

He was in a band of Oamaru boys who went to Dunedin to perform for a Telethon in the 1970s. Watching some of the skits being staged for the event, he thought “maybe I could do some of that”.

His acting days began.

“I tried out for a couple of things and was quite surprised I got parts.”

He wondered if it was because there was always a shortage of men auditioning for plays and musicals.

Mr Rakiraki is renowned for compelling performances in a wide range of roles.

“First of all, you’ve got to be unafraid to let people see everything you have, emotionally – and physically too, in a lot of ways.”

If an actor was self-conscious, “then it’s you, not the character”, he said.

Asked which art form was his favourite, he said “I would rather play the guitar than anything else”.

“Singing doesn’t bother me either way. There wouldn’t be a day goes by that I don’t spend some time when I play on the guitar.”

When he goes to the Waitaki Lakes for a break, he always takes three things.

“The first thing I pack away is a fishing rod. The second thing is a bottle of whisky. The third is a ukulele.”

At the age of 68, Mr Rakiraki is planning to retire from the Alliance Pukeuri meat works at the end of this season. He started there in the mid-1970s and has worked “up through the ranks” to safety adviser.

In the ’70s and ’80s, he used to “chase” musical gigs partly because he enjoyed them, but also for extra income.

“I’ve done a bit of TV from time to time. It gives you another string to your bow.”

Nowadays, he will accept gigs when the opportunity arises if he feels like it. In the last few years he has played in the Dunedin band Stash, which wanted him in its original 1972 line-up.

“I declined; I wanted to further my career elsewhere.”

Some members are a bit anxious about not rehearsing, but Mr Rakiraki said that hasn’t bothered him for the last two decades. As long as he has “a bit of a plan” or sees a playlist 10 minutes before going on stage, he’s fine.

“Recently, I’ve got involved in another band. We’re in the process of getting enough material together to hit the place in the New Year.”

He would also like to mentor younger performers when he hangs up his high-vis vest.